Rome, Paris, New York ... and Falkirk

Fashion photographer Fabrizio Gianni talks about 'Fantasia', the exhibition of his work at the Park Gallery''Picture: Michael Gillen
Fashion photographer Fabrizio Gianni talks about 'Fantasia', the exhibition of his work at the Park Gallery''Picture: Michael Gillen
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To his family he is a loving husband and father, to friends and neighbours he is the polite Italian gentleman with the ingrained suntan and strong accent denoting his roots, while the golfers at Glenbervie know him as their ‘Italian champion’. But to those in his line of work, he is nothing less than a legend.

To his family he is a loving husband and father, to friends and neighbours he is the polite Italian gentleman with the ingrained suntan and strong accent denoting his roots, while the golfers at Glenbervie know him as their ‘Italian champion’. But to those in his line of work, he is nothing less than a legend.

Fabrizio Gianni is one of the greatest fashion photographers of his generation, in fact he is up there with the all-time greats.

His work has taken him from his native Rome to Milan, Paris, London, New York and all spots in between. However, for the last couple of decades his adopted home has been in Falkirk.

Swapping the landmarks of these cultural capitals to live almost within sight of the Steeple, he and wife Gail have raised their son and daughter in a quiet, residential street which even the most zealous estate agent would be pushed to call cosmopolitan.

Yet it is the Park Gallery within Falkirk’s historic Callendar House which has the distinction of hosting the first-ever exhibition of his work. Although his beautiful images have appeared in every glossy magazine you could imagine, including Vogue, Elle, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar, there has been very little documented about his varied and distinguished career. Until now.

Not that Fabrizio was ever keen on being in the limelight. Like most photographers, he has always preferred to be behind the camera, directing his subjects, rather than the focus of attention.

But that was before he came across Gillian Smith. The Park Gallery’s curator has been planning this moment since 2004 when she read an article in our sister paper Scotland on Sunday and discovered that Fabrizio lived locally. She said: “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, but the timing was never right. The gallery celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and I thought that would be the perfect opportunity.”

But her first task two years ago when she began devising this event was to track him down. The second was slightly harder, it was to persuade him it would be a good idea.

“Alan Peebles, the photographer involved in the article in 2004, suggested I try contacting Fabrizio through Glenbervie Golf Club because he knew that he played there,” she said. “I sent off a letter and he kindly got back in touch agreeing to meet.”

However, Fabrizio, now 76, admits that he was only being polite because he never considers his profession to be art and had never envisaged his work being exhibited. “I take photographs, perhaps some say beautiful photographs but I’m not an artist,” he admitted. “This has been my professional work, but I don’t think it’s fine art.”

But luck was on Gillian’s side as at the same time he was approached by a French publisher interested in preparing a book of his photographs. That saw him go down into the cellar of his home to look for the negatives and transparencies from his lifetime’s work – only to discover that the Scottish climate had not been kind to them.

“Unfortunately the cardboard boxes they were stored in were damp and when I lifted them found many of the negatives covered in mould. It’s been a long process to revive them. I’ve been working 12 hour days to get them cleaned so they can be scanned.”

What makes Fabrizio’s work different from others is that he uses them to tell a story, often based around his own love of the golden age of Hollywood.

“Most of my colleagues would take a model, put some clothes on her and take five or six photographs. That was it. But I like to keep things very simple and tell a little story.

“For instance, in 1992 I did a shoot in the Maldives where most of the clothes were by Versace and my idea was to make the model a pirate.

“But not everyone wanted that. If someone commissioned me with a very set idea and I thought it was impossible to get them to change their mind, I would say ‘you have the wrong photographer, please call another one’.

“I also liked to pick the model as I would have my little script and know who I wanted.”

He is very discreet, but the shrug of his shoulders when questioned about the so-called supermodels, gives an insight into his thoughts. “There was one, who turned up two days late for the shoot then told me she could give me two hours.”

Asked which models he liked working with and he said it was never the most well known. “I liked natural looking girls. No make-up or hairdressing.”

The son of an industrialist, he gave up working in the family chemical firm after a year and went to film school, quickly gaining employment as an assistant director. The spaghetti western was all the rage and he worked with Sergio Leone on such notables as ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.

But when the film industry had its ‘high noon’ in the 1970s as the oil crisis saw funding dry up, Fabrizio found himself looking for work. His sideline had been taking photographs of the actors he worked with and, encouraged by actress Gina Lollobrigida, he tried to make a living from fashion photography.

“I went to Milan to a lowly magazine and they looked at my photos of actors before asking if I was free the next day.”

That was the start of what was to be a remarkable career taking him around the world on commissions for leading publications. It also saw him meet his wife.

Gail Inglis was a willowy model from Falkirk who had arrived in Milan to work. “She was in the model agency which was based in the block where I lived when I first saw her. A few days later Scotland was playing Brazil at football and I had a TV set so she came to watch the match.”

The couple lived in Italy but eventually came to Falkirk to allow children, Josephine and Rory, to be educated at Dollar Academy, while Gail studied for the legal profession and is now an advocate.

“I love living here, it’s such a beautiful place and it’s given my children a great education,”

About 10 years ago Fabrizio decided it was time to retire to the golf course where he could work on his handicap. A decade on he appears almost bemused by this rekindled interest in his work.

“When people ask, I always say I was a photographer. That is all.”

* Fabrizio Gianni’s ‘Fantasia’ runs at the Park Gallery, Callendar House from tomorrow (Friday) until August 30. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with last admission at 4 p.m. Free admission.

On Saturday, May 9 the Hippodrome, Bo’ness will show ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ with Fabrizio taking part in a question and answer session after the screening.

The acclaimed fashion photographer will host a talk in the Park Gallery on Saturday, June 6 from 11 a.m. till noon when there will be an informal walk through the exhibition with the opportunity to ask question. Free admission but book a place by calling (01324) 506850.